How life-changing lessons can create great results

Leaving school or university doesn’t mean your education is over. In fact, learning is a lifelong process and it has never been more important than today.

With artificial intelligence and automation posing a threat to many workers, constant development and acquiring new skills is a must.

There are 1.4m adults honing their skills in UK further education colleges. And a Manpower survey shows that 93% of millennials are keen to spend their time and money mastering new skills.

But being on top of your game is not only crucial for employees. Swiftly adapting to circumstances and learning from your own experiences is equally important for company founders to thrive as leaders.

This week, the 100 Stories of Growth campaign showcases three scale-ups highly committed to improving the process of learning. Their charismatic founders have an important lesson to teach other entrepreneurs – how to effectively learn and make the most of negative experiences.


Busuu learned how to be a global champion of language learning  

Top-three global language learning platform busuu has helped 80m eager learners and blue-chip companies worldwide to master 12 languages.

The first six years were a great success for busuu. The company employed 50 people and already had 30m users. But being an online-focused platform, busuu was taken by surprise by the sudden turn towards mobile phone apps in 2014.

So the company had to completely reinvent its technology, which proved costly and time-consuming. As its revenue started to decline, founder and CEO Bernhard Niesner had to drastically reduce his staff to stay cash-positive.

We hired people who potentially had quite different values and were then applying an opposing culture in the business.

The near-death experience reshaped his attitude towards company culture and human capital. He learned that core values are the glue that holds a company together.

Niesner has put a lot of effort into defining the company’s core values and instilling them into his employees. He even hired a culture manager who helps creating company’s lingua franca and make sure prospective hires fit into busuu’s culture.

Placing culture at the heart of business, busuu learned a very important lesson on its rise to the top. Now, it employs 100 people and has been generating over 60% year-on-year revenue growth. [Read the busuu story]


e-Quality Learning supports learners to realise their potential

Founder and CEO Chris Quickfall embarked on his entrepreneurial journey to “make the world a more inclusive place”. e-Quality Learning provides a host of products and services to support students with special educational needs and disability.

The company’s latest product CognAssit provides a cost-effective, online cognitive-profiling. Among many things, it can spot hidden educational needs like dyslexia. Quickfall hopes it will help the company to expand into New Zealand and Australia.

Our vision is that everyone who needs it in the future will have the opportunity to benefit from brain profiling, helping to support their ambitions in life.

From the start, Quickfall had been keen to run his business without external investment. But he soon discovered that in flying solo it’s difficult to overcome initial start-up turbulence.

Despite two brushes with near-collapse, the founder would refuse to throw in the towel. He used credit cards and other short-debt solutions to bounce back.

Perseverance paid off. Lessons learned from its near-death experiences helped e-Quality Learning to scale up more effectively.

Quickfall lists rigorous financial planning and ability to better invest in top human capital as main takeaways from his financial struggles.

The new approach has helped the company generate a healthy £6m revenue and increase the headcount by 20%. [Read the e-Quality Learning story]


The Intern Group helps thousands of students excel abroad

The Intern Group arranges international work experience opportunities for 1400 students from top universities, while generating a handsome £10m turnover. The company sends students to Madrid, New York, Melbourne and Tokyo, to name but a few of the locations.

Spotting an emerging opportunity, three friends tapped into the international internship sector. Co-founder and executive director Lee Carlin says the company has always been focused on success without seeking external funding.

We just needed enough funds to build our website and marketing channels to allow students to apply to our programme. And to secure partnership with global universities that would guarantee participant numbers.

The company’s funding model has been based entirely on participation fees. To expand internationally, The Intern Group hired affiliate colleagues abroad who participate in the profit share. Carlin says that the strategy helped the company to swiftly grow, but proved “a bit scrappy” at times, so one of its objectives this year is to simplify it.

Since 2011, The Intern Group has increased its headcount from three to 75 and had a year-on-year growth rate between 30% and 60%. [Read The Intern Group’s story]


Join the 100 Stories of Growth campaign as we continue to explore how fast-growth companies are using financial, human, intellectual and emotional capital to successfully scale.
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